Moving And What We Leave Behind
November 29, 2013
This old house is so… alive.
It wasn’t always.
The house was 20 years old when the ex and I had first stood hand-in-hand as a couple and promised aloud to do all the things that would turn this humble house into a veritable mansion, worthy of Uptown People of Wealth. I had grown up in this neighborhood. On this block. She had grown up only a block or two over. We wanted all the children we had planned to grow up here, where we had grown.
The many children we planned had turned out to be only Mouse by the time the divorce detonated.
In a bizarre miracle of fate, I found that I had ended up with this house when the mushroom cloud began to dissipate.
There was that terrible moment when I came to the stark realization that, although I had married my high school sweetheart for love, and companionship and all the “right reasons”, I had, in fact, allowed my soul to be knitted to one who was… soulless.
There was also that terrible moment when I realized that the years and the plans and the promises and the memories were to about to coined into cold, hard, cash. The marriage was not now, nor ever was going to be remembered for the things we’d felt, or the memories we’d made, but for what it had ended up being worth on Missouri’s Form 14.
In the end, this old house had netted out to a negative on the balance sheet. At the moment of the divorce it represented more debt than profit. With no apparent value, it was cast aside, like those worn and stained old mattresses you see lying on the side of lonesome back roads. Furtively pushed off the back of a moving truck in the middle of the night, valueless and unwanted.
This house became the place where Mouse “grew up”. She spent the vast majority of time with me, and in this old house. She “latch keyed” there every day as this old house was only two blocks from her grade school, and only a couple more blocks from her eventual middle and high school. This put her in my care and in this house every school day of her life over the next 10 years.
As the years rolled by my status as a completely broke divorced Dad kept me from investing in the house as diligently as good home owners usually do. The money simply wasn’t there for extensive professional repairs or even basic remodeling from time to time as most responsible home owners do.
Repairs tended to be “homegrown” and basic, and upgrades… well… upgrades were non-existent.
The years before the divorce didn’t bring the promised attention. The years afterward were necessarily more Spartan still.
In the decade that followed the divorce it fell into disrepair. I was doing well to keep the basics together. The plumbing. The foundation. Basic structural integrity. There was no money for anything more.
As I struggled and scraped to keep my head above water with the millstone of confiscatory child support payments threatening weekly to drag me to a watery grave, I found myself still paying for Mouse’s every day needs. I never understood how I could pay 4 figure child support, and still be required to pay for every doctor visit. Every school book, activity pass, or fee. All of her clothes. Most of her meals. Virtually every aspect of her care, I paid for outright. Then paid again every month in “child support”.
Outrage aside, this necessarily meant that there was no money left over for anything but the basics.
This old house stopped living and breathing sometime during the years that followed.
Although I did my best to keep it a home for Mouse, it became a crusty bachelor’s pad.
Who needed a working stove? I had a microwave. Good enough for Mouse and me. The stovetop worked. Most of the time.
The multi-colored kitchen linoleum was 35 years old, and looked like Walt Disney himself had upchucked on it. The matted 70’s style fun-fur shag carpet in the living room was, I kid you not, Pepto Bismol Pink. While most of the neighbors had years ago transitioned to modern aluminum or vinyl siding, this old house wore her ancient asbestos shingles like a shabby housewife wore an old, loud, floral moo-moo. Where the rest of the neighbors had long ago installed the more efficient and attractive replacement windows, this old house wore her tinny old single pane abominations like the aforementioned housewife would wear her gigantic, 50’s style sequined cats-eye glasses. The basement went unfinished, of course. The garage as well. The oversized yard, once the envy of the entire neighborhood, went undercared for and began to sport weeds, and crabgrass, and was lucky to even be mowed from week to week.
Slowly… this old house… expired.
Along with all the hopes and dreams that had seemed so apparent the day we’d stood hand-in-hand and taken possession of it.
Once a man has experienced watching while his feelings and beliefs are callously sold into servitude to someone else’s greed, it’s not surprising that he’s not in a hurry to put his heart or his dreams in Harm’s Way again anytime soon.
For the longest time, I had kept the entrance to my old heart boarded up. Graffiti covered boards fastened to a rotting frame with rusty nails. It was as old, and dusty, and uncared for as this house had become.
Well… more precisely…
A “fix up” date, engineered by well-meaning friends would bring Jamie into my life. And Mouse’s.
Jamie took a look and decided to take the time to tentatively pry off those splintery old boards, and let the light shine into this old heart, and, by extension, this old house.
During the “girlfriend” years she would fuss, and decorate, and insist on small upgrades that made this old house less like some horny old guy’s “Love Shack” and more and more like a home. A carefully selected lamp here. A nice little curtain there. A dab a paint over here. A dash of cloth over there.
A plant here. A plant there. Before I knew it there were plants everywhere.
Growing. Thriving. Prospering.
Like everything Jamie comes in contact with seems to do.
Plants. People. It didn’t seem to matter. Everything she touched was better for her having touched it.
And I was no exception. Nor was Mouse. Jamie’s pure faith, love and feminine energy was the warm sunshine in all of our lives that our souls had been withering without for years, and that we had never really known. In that warmth and sunshine we began to grow.
And when the day came that I could no longer deny I didn’t like thinking about what my life would be like if it was deprived of that warmth and light, she answered my quietly whispered prayer for a more important place in her life with an even more quietly whispered “Yes”.
The day she moved into this old house with me, she sat my crusty, old, previously bachelor’s ass down, and gave it to me straight between my eyes.
If she were to be my wife, she needed to make this old house HER home as well.
This would mean…. “change” for me.
Those who know me, know my life’s motto all too well : “Change… is BAD.”
A crusty creature of habit known for being cantankerous and disliking change immensely, she made it clear she didn’t want to live in a crusty, decrepit, boarded up old bachelor’s pad.
Her heart needed a Home.
A real, living, breathing, Home.
“Good luck with that.” I remember thinking quietly to myself. This old house assumed room temperature loooong ago.
Then, I made the smartest decision I’ve ever made in my life. I decided to get out of her way, and allow “change” to enter my life.
And… as if through some miracle… she slowly began go breath life back into this place.
In an amazingly short period of time, and for an amazingly small amount of carefully scrimped and saved for money, things in this old house began to change.
That old gaudy multicolored linoleum disappeared, and was replaced with a modern, attractive ceramic tile, complete with carefully selected matching grout. The ancient asbestos siding morphed into contemporary vinyl siding. The outrageously colorful (and outrageously filthy) Pepto-Carpet morphed into contemporary Berber carpet that just happened to be a color that actually was found in nature. The prehistoric old Roper stove disappeared and was replaced by a modern GE Silver Line appliance that was smarter than most high school graduates. It could turn itself on, bake a pie, then cool itself down and turn itself off apparently without human intervention. In place of the 50’s style crappy metal windows new, energy efficient “double hungs” appeared. The savings each month on our energy bill more than paid back the cost of those windows in less than a year. With the tax breaks from the upgrade – we actually came out ahead. I kid you not.
Strange, cloth-like things began to appear over the windows. These new-fangled apparitions were apparently known to others as “curtains”. Why someone would bother with such frivolous things was beyond me until I discovered that those long, thin metal strips across the windows actually weren’t dusty grey, they had… apparently… been WHITE all this time, and when you twirled the little stick thingy next to them… as if by some evil magic… they OPENED and allowed sunlight into your house. Plants apparently needed this to happen in order to survive.
There was also a suggestion that those big, dirt filled things in the back yard were actually oddly named “flower boxes” and were – much to my surprise – NOT a repository for cigarette ashes and sticks from the yard. One day I came outside to find… flowers… in the flower boxes. Like… real… living… flowers. Not the plastic kind mind you – but – REAL flowers. In my her our yard!
Suddenly, and without warning, this old house began to BREATH again.
Where once I couldn’t see anything but decay, and decomposing dreams, Jamie brought color, and light, and warmth, and life to this old house.
Just as she had done to this old heart.
Like a determined doctor that refuses to give up resuscitating a long dead patient, she kept pounding on this old houses ribcage and puffing into its mouth until… like a miracle… it choked, and gasped, and sat bolt upright, chest heaving and coughing as it tried to expel a decade of decay and cobwebs from its dusty lungs.
This old house is so… “Alive”.
This old heart is so… “Alive”.
Because of Jamie.
Today… our lives are taking us in a new direction. A new home, in a new neighborhood awaits us.
And as I stand looking around at this warm, living, breathing space I have this huge lump in my throat, and my emotions are threatening to overwhelm me.
Jamie swept into this house and poured herself into it, and into me, and brought both of those crusty old things back to life.
I look around and see her hard work and faith in us everywhere, and I see the color and light and happiness she put back into all of us, and it’s hard to let it go.
In a day or two, I’ll have to hand the keys to this old house to a new owner and I wonder if they will ever know this place as we have. So much living was done here. So many memories. So many summer days. So many Christmas mornings. So many storms weathered.
So much…. Life… lived here.
I fight the tears and I know, I know a new, bigger, fancier house awaits.
I know in my heart of hearts that Jamie will do for the new house what she did for this one.
And what she did for me.
And what she did for Mouse.
She will continue to breath life into it, and into us, and make us what we were always meant to be.